Common Forklift Accidents – Causes & Prevention

Almost all accidents take place because of human distraction.”
Sebastian Thrun

Industrial industries tend to carry a lot of risk. Heavy equipment, and too many workers on site, or not enough, can spell disaster. Forklift operation in particular can lead to injury, accident and death. According to the Fork Lift Truck Association, forklifts cause approximately 1,300 serious injuries among UK employees.

Every workday five UK workers suffer life-changing injuries, including complex fractures and amputations. That’s a serious risk of accidents for a piece of equipment used by multiple industries, including warehousing, construction, road work, sanitation, and demolition.

Safety should always come first on a job site. With this in mind, this article will cover some of the major risks involved with forklift operation, and, more importantly, how to avoid accident or injury.

Causes of Forklift Accidents & How to Prevent Them

There are nine major causes of forklift accidents.

  1. Lack of proper training
  2. Driving too fast
  3. Poor maintenance or malfunction of machine
  4. Poor communication
  5. Horseplay or irresponsible work habits around the machine
  6. Cluttered workspace
  7. Pedestrian accidents
  8. Not using the proper protective equipment
  9. Carbon monoxide poisoning due to overuse or badly maintained equipment.

As you can see, most of these accidents are easily prevented with proper training and safety protocols in place. Making sure all of your crew members are fully trained on the forklift, whether they will be driving or not.

Here is what you can do to prevent workplace accidents involving forklifts:

1. Train Your Crew

All operators are required to follow proper training procedures. Still, the records show that about 70% of accidents are caused simply by improper training.

What Should Forklift Training Look Like?

Certification and training should include formal instruction, and practical on the job training. Your courses should include both lecture and demonstrations, as well as a recorded evaluation, with a final certification process.

Any time your company or job site receives new equipment, you should be re-certified for the new forklift. Additionally, if you won’t be driving the forklift, but will be on site during its operation, you should be given a safety course which you will be required to pass. This course should be about maintaining the machines, being mindful during their operations, and how to stop accidents before they start.

Detailed safety courses and instruction on behavior and procedures on a job site are the best way to prevent accidents. HSE’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) is a great place to start.

It offers comprehensive information on:

  • Safety
  • Responsibility
  • How to identify various types of lift trucks
  • Pre-operational checks
  • Inspection
  • Fuel safety
  • Lift capacity

2. Slow Down

do not speed with commercial vehicles

Truck tip overs are a leading cause of accidents. Speed and overloading are the biggest causes of forklift tip over. All safety protocols should include a maximum operating speed designed to keep workers safe.

It’s important to keep speed reduced while turning, especially when carrying a load. Never load the forks beyond the truck’s maximum capacity, and keep a slow, steady speed as you lift and transport your load.

If the tip-overs is unstable as it rises, recheck, and don’t try to move it. Slow down and be extra careful when moving oddly-shaped loads that are extra tall or wide. This is essential when there are pedestrians around to watch for.

Keep Your Cool

Industrial workplaces can be stressful environments, but operating heavy machinery while stressed can lead to serious accidents. Deadlines are important, but staying safe, and keeping your fellow workers safe, are more important than saving your job. All it takes is one mistake to risk yours, or someone else’s heath.

Be extra mindful of your driving when you are under stress, if your heart rate is up, if you have health concerns, or are on any kind of medication which can impair your judgement or motor function.

3. Proper Maintenance – Spot A Problem Before It Starts

proper maintenance prevents malfunction of your work vehicle

Performing regular maintenance on your forklift is the best way to stop a problem before it starts. A daily inspection checklist will help keep your forklift in working order. Some things to look for should include:

  • Check the horn. You’ll want to be able to sound the horn whenever visibility is poor, especially if you’re approaching an intersection.
  • Check for hydraulic leaks.
  • Wipe down lint, grease, and oil, which can lead to fires.
  • Check the exhaust for damage, fire, or smoke.
  • Check that the tires are pressured, and undamaged.
  • Adjust your controls to make sure all the positions are smooth
  • Ensure steering and lights are working properly, whether or not you plan to work at night.
  • Check the brakes
  • Check the seat belts and make sure they’re working
  • Check to make sure the load capacity plate is visible.

4. Communicate and Plan For The Worst

Work environments can be noisy, chaotic places. There should always be a method of communication for the supervisors to speak to forklift operators.

Operators should carry wireless communication devices or emergency communications equipment, and should be trained on how and when to use them. Operators should also be well trained in signaling pedestrians, and other workers on the ground.

Communication also means knowing how to handle an accident when it happens. Having specific emergency plans in place with various types of accidents in mind will help keep your workplace safe.

Keep your teams and crews drilled for safety. Make sure everyone knows who to contact and how to contact them in an emergency. There will be times when you may need to call 999 before the designated emergency contact. Make sure everyone is aware of the proper protocols to follow in the case of an accident.

Panic tends to make a bad situation worse, but a well-trained team can keep everyone safe. Some things to consider, when planning your accident responses:

  • Get to a safe place – This may mean evacuating an area, as in the case of fire, or moving out of range of a malfunctioning piece of machinery.
  • Assess the situation – Check for injuries. Call 999 if you need to. Asses for property damage once you’ve established no one else has been hurt.
  • Call for help – You should always have first aid kits on the job site, and in your vehicles. For anything more than basic first aids, cuts, and surface burns, call for EMS right away.
  • Get information – Record the details of the incident as quickly as possible. Shock can dampen recollection and make you miss information that emergency responders or workers unions might need later. Get contact and insurance information where necessary.
  • Follow up – File the appropriate paperwork as required by the HSE, your insurance company, and the Safety Committee and human resources.

Having a plan in place that is regularly drilled and prepared for will help you feel more comfortable and confident should an accident occur. Keeping lines of communication open is a good way to stay ahead of any trouble that might result in an accident. So keep the first aid and emergency response equipment at the ready.

5. Don’t Let Your Work Environment Get Lazy

The occasional on-site horseplay is bound to happen on a job site. It’s great for relieving tension, for bonding, and for killing time. It’s also incredibly dangerous when dealing with heavy machinery.

Working with this type of equipment is not an invitation to horseplay. Most forklift accidents are entirely preventable. Forklifts are incredibly large, dangerous, and often unstable. And as big as they are, it’s not safe to ride on the forks, to stop suddenly, or “race.”

Any and all horseplay on or around the forklift should be immediately reported to a supervisor. Results of unsafe practices in the workplace should be posted where they are visible, and all employees should be aware of them during training. You want everyone to stay safe, so make sure the consequences for infractions are suitably serious. The consequences of an accident could be even worse, after all.

It’s also important to learn how to load appropriately. Your pallets should be checked to make sure they are in good condition. Keep your loads well under capacity, and make sure they are stacked securely. Poorly stacked pallets can slip, which changes your weight distribution, and even fall, causing injury and death. You should also ensure your load does not block your vision. Always keep an eye on the direction of your forks.

6. Avoid A Cluttered Workspace

Clean and organised workspace for your warehousing

There are plenty of reasons to keep your warehouse or workspace uncluttered. Not only does it make it easier and safer to move around, especially with heavy machinery, but it makes it easier to keep track of inventory, and find supplies. It also means safety procedures, first aid kits and other signage is visible to everyone.

Keeping an uncluttered space makes it easier to operate heavy machinery, like your forklift, inside a warehouse. Turning with a forklift load, no matter how small, is a difficult and careful process. Keeping everything in its proper place will help to prevent any unexpected difficulties when maneuvering your work area. Adequate, sturdy shelving that is raised well off the floor is a must.

The first step to keeping an area uncluttered is to keep track of your inventory. Having a good organizational system, and knowing where and what everything is will make it less likely to have unnecessary stock, or loose boxes or equipment around.

Visibility with the forklift can be difficult, so make sure someone is designated to keep your driving areas clear. Avoid narrow or crowded aisles, and do not obstruct intersections or doors. Keep a wide berth of high traffic areas. Separate pedestrian and forklift traffic by creating designated walkways in your space.

The area where you operate the forklift should be well-lit, to increase visibility. Keep your loading dock unobstructed, clear, and in good working condition.

7. Avoid Pedestrian Accidents

pedestrian accidents in the work area
Restrict access to the forklift work area & use clear signage

A forklift can weigh as much as three times the weight of a car. That means, no matter how slow it’s moving, a forklift is dangerous to both the operator, and the pedestrians around it. 20% of forklift accidents involve pedestrians being struck with the truck. Having everyone on the job site familiar with the proper procedures when the forklift is moving can save lives, but if you’re working in public areas, be sure to follow these procedures:

  • Block or fence off the area where the forklift will be operating, to keep pedestrians in separate areas when possible
  • Be sure your load cannot obstruct your view. Always keep your eyes where your forks are pointed.
  • Always use adequate lighting, especially when working at night.
  • Make sure before operating the forklift, all debris is cleared from the site. Stay away from narrow passages, and tight corners, which makes visibility difficult.
  • Limit forklift operation in pedestrian areas to periods of the day with low traffic and higher visibility.

Given the number of forklift accidents involving pedestrians, keeping these safety tips in mind whenever the forklift is in operation will dramatically cut down your forklift accidents.

8. Always Use The Proper PPE Equipment

Any job that requires the use of a forklift should provide the proper personal protection equipment. Each person operating the forklift should have training with safety equipment, and personal protection wear which includes: Helmet, gloves, reflective vest and safety goggles.

You will also need to wear loose clothes, but not too loose, so that nothing can get caught or wrapped around your equipment. Wearing heavy work boots, or steel-toed boots is also a good idea to stay safe.

Generally, your workplace environment should offer you the proper safety equipment to use any machinery, but it is your responsibility to always wear your safety equipment, and to include the protection of the proper footwear and comfortable clothing. Depending on the environment you are working in, you may need masks to protect your lungs from dust and debris. It can help to protect you against toxins, such as carbon monoxide.

9. Risk of Carbon Monoxide and What You Can Do

With any combustible engine, there is some risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. This is especially true if you’re working in an indoor space, such as a warehouse.

The first protection you have against carbon monoxide poison is to keep your machines well tuned. A tuned engine might release up to 4% carbon monoxide, but an engine that hasn’t been tuned in a while might release as much as 10%.

Overusing your forklift, or using older machinery is another surefire way to increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Keeping your equipment and spaces updated means keeping spaces ventilated, and making sure your equipment meets current environmental codes. All equipment should be carbon tested and re-certified or replaced at least once every three years. Any available safety courses and re-certification to operate the forklift should happen once every three years.

Small amounts of carbon monoxide over time can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness. It’s very dangerous to operate heavy machinery while drowsy and unfocused, compounding the potential dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Consistent exposure can result in serious illness and even death.

how do forklift accidents happen and what can you do to prevent them?
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Forklift Safety Dos and Don’ts

There are many things you can do to keep yourself safe and others safe on a job site when you are operating a forklift. Some of them involve basic safety procedures and some common sense with regards to heavy machinery. But there are some things to keep in mind specifically when dealing with forklifts. Forklifts can be incredibly unstable, considering their size and weight. To stay safe, keep this list of dos and don’ts in mind.

Do this:

  • Always board the forklift with the three-point method – two hands, one foot in contact with the vehicle at all times.
  • Always read the instruction and safety manuals of your particular rig before driving.
  • Perform operational checks before you start and after you power down.
  • Different forklift manufacturers have different control panels and safety features.
  • Always use proper restraints, and keep hands and arms inside the rig at all times.
  • Always face the direction you are traveling.
  • Use the horn when you are working in a pedestrian zone.
  • If you are a pedestrian in an area with a forklift, be sure to stay at least three vehicle distances apart from the forklift at all times

Don’t do this:

  • Never, ever try to bail out if the forklift is tipping, even if you think you can do so safely, or stop beforehand. The change in weight distribution can cause the forklift to veer, and can harm someone, or yourself.
  • Never grab the steering wheel as you enter the vehicle. It can shift, causing you to fall on something.
  • Never carry passengers
  • Do not make sudden directional changes when carrying a load.
  • Never grab the overhead guard when traveling in reverse.
  • Never assume that everyone can hear you back-up. Consider the noise level in your workplace.

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Forklift Infographic
Share & save lives

Forklifts cause a total of about 1% of deaths in the workplace but can cause hundreds of thousands of injuries per year. It’s estimated that over 70% of all forklift accidents are preventable, simply by following the proper safety procedures and keeping workplace safety and equipment updated.

By understanding what causes these accidents, we can prevent most of them, and help keep your workspace safe from injuries, accidents, and environmental hazards.

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